November 23rd, 2015
It’s been a year since Guru MakeUp Emporium made the big, and in the words of Niki Gallacher and Aine Sweeney, Guru’s founders, ‘full-on scary’ move from their comfortable home in leafy Parson’s Green to High Street Kensington, complete with boutique shop front, a team of MUA-qualified sales staff and a plan to expand and grow their business to become one of the go-to places for MUAs both in the UK and world-wide. Warpaint caught up with them to get the low-down on a life in make-up, slap bang in the middle of a world-famous shopping destination.
“We had no idea what a major thing this whole ‘moving’ malarkey was,” Aine laughs. “There we were thinking, ‘we can do this over a weekend’, what were we thinking?” Niki adds. “I think it was singularly the most stressful thing we could have done, but one we don’t regret for a single second. Having the shop, with all stock on site, with room to separate the beauty from the SFX, to have the space to properly service both our newly acquired walk-in consumer customers together with our stalwart pro MUA’s has meant we can build the Guru brand. Add to this, being near a tube, having other make-up brands around: MAC, Space NK, Muji – means MUAs will make the journey to us.”
“We had to move for practical purposes, but it really has been like redesigning the whole business,” Aine adds. “When we were tucked away in Parson’s Green is was really just us, now we have staff to help us. We realised that mail order in particular is a vital part of our business. MUAs are working all over the world and we have to compete in a competitive market. For us, service is everything and we try very hard to fulfil all orders as quickly and expediently as possible. We now have staff that are full-time on this aspect of the business, something that wasn’t possible space-wise previously.”
“We also work with our MUAs via the phone, we become their eyes/personal shoppers. We are always working to get the very best delivery options for our customers. We do offer a bike service, particularly within London and will fulfil orders ready for collection and of course we’ll deliver via next day services. Not being the size of Amazon, it is hard to compete and keep the costs down, but what we do offer is the knowledge and personal service to make sure our customers get exactly what they need.” Niki explains.
Both Niki and Aine are keenly aware that the make-up supply business is cut-throat and competitive. “We are challenged by purely online suppliers, and struggle to answer the customers who question the pricing. They forget we have the overheads of a physical presence, but with that presence comes the staff, expertise and the service we offer. We never forget that the Pro MUA is our core customer, it’s where we came from and who we will always be paramount in our minds. But that’s not to dismiss the ever-growing make-up savvy consumer, we try here at Guru to cater for both and serve the unique needs of each the best we can.”
There’s no doubt that Guru has an incredible choice of products for both pro MUA and consumer. For a start they carry the full Make Up For Ever range, which is indeed vast plus Velour Lashes, Japoneque brushes, EX1 and OCC as well as Kett, MaeKup, Fleet St Bloodworks, Ben Nye, MouldLife and Sam-32 to name but a few. The whole floor of SFX carries every Skin Illustrator palette and more Bloody Marvellous blood that seemed possible. Brian Kinney’s Hurt Boxes are packed onto the shelves and Rod Maxwell’s Flesh Master inks are in plentiful supply. Fake tattoos, bald caps, postiche, pre-made bullet wounds, this department is a candy shop for most TV and film MUAs. “These are most definitely our roots,” Aine goes on. “Our staff are all MUAs, and are carefully trained up on all the ranges stocked both Beauty and SFX. That’s not to say we don’t dismiss the regular ladies who come in looking for a really good base, or need help choosing a mascara as we want them to feel as welcome as the pros, but we are first and foremost a pro MUA shop.”
“We did try consultations when we first opened, but that was quite hard and time-consuming. It is easier for brands like MAC who own the products so they can take the cost of the makeover off purchase. We aren’t able to do this as we are multi-brand and approved stockists. We found that the makeovers we taking the girls away from serving Pro MUAs with often no sale of make-up generated. So now our team are there to help and advise our consumer customers, but no makeovers.” Aine continues.
Finding MUAs versus sales girls from the beauty counters is a constant challenge for Guru. “We take a long time to train our staff, it’s not about pushing product for the most commission, as we don’t work that way. It’s about making sure the customer gets what they want, and if we don’t have it we’d rather they go away with nothing than the wrong thing.”
For the Pro’s, Guru runs a Pro Scheme. “We have a variety of levels, from students and colleges to the more experienced MUAs. We do ask for evidence of their work, so really it’s a conversation we have with them, rather than a publishable set of criteria.”
Certainly Guru sees their customers fall into three categories: walk-in/shop, mail order/telephone orders and the website. The girls are very clear, every single enquiry is a potential customer, just as important as any other and each one deserves the best possible service. “I feel that its almost 3 different businesses some days, we have the boutique shop, the large Pro MUA orders via mail order and the online website,” Aine explains.
The website is still a work in progress, “In part it’s what made the move so complicated,” Niki adds. “E-Commerce is so complicated and we have such a massive stock catalogue, our website is something that needs dedication. To begin with we could do it all ourselves, but as the Guru brand builds so does the website demands. Now we need to out-source it, so really you need to watch this space, the new Guru all-singing-all-dancing website will be with you soon.”
With the new website comes better delivery options, “we can now ship hazardous, even if that’s just a couple of nail polishes, to Europe, that’s new,” Nikki goes on.
Stock availability is something that Aine is particularly pleased that the move has facilitated. “We did have a reputation for being well stocked, but in this industry in 2015 when everyone wants their stuff yesterday, we have to maintain that. Some of the manufacturers can take weeks to fulfil our orders so being able to keep on top of stock and to build on being the place that WILL have it, is important to us.”
It really does seem that Guru has settled in to Kensington life very nicely. “We do love it here,” Aine and Niki sing in unison. “Having other make-up locations here actually helps, why would be trek out to Parson’s Green, when you can now come here and shop around? We’ve found we’ve grown our customer base in the last 12 months, not lost anyone, and that makes all the stress and hassle all worthwhile. We needed to evolve and to do that we had to move and hopefully our customers old and new will reap the benefits.”
Guru MakeUp Emporium can be found at 12 Kensington Church Street, High Street Kensington, LondonW8 4EP. Tel: 0207 937 1993 Web: www.gurumakeupemporium.com